Ireland's only milk bank: how and why you should donate breastmilk
Ireland’s only milk bank provides lifesaving breastmilk to over 900 babies a year, in the face of an exceptional donor shortage.
The Milk Bank, the only one of its kind in the country, is based in the small town of Irvinestown, Co Fermanagh and is managed by the Western Health and Social Care Trust.
The Milk Bank has been exceptionally busy for months, receiving donations from around Ireland and catering for increasingly smaller babies and a higher number of multiple births in the North and South; situations that have drastically reduced their stocks of donated breastmilk.
Ann McCrea, the bank's coordinator, says that human milk is a wonder-product that help the babies fight viruses and bacteria:
"It has unique fats that help the immature brain, eye and nervous system develop better for improved intellect and sight - but probably the most important benefit for the premature baby is that it helps to protect the immature gut from necrotising enterocolitis (NEC), the most common and serious intestinal disease among preemies. This condition that has caused the deaths of many premature babies and left others requiring invasive gut surgery.
Breastmilk also helps protect these babies from pneumonia and septicaemia. Mothers are wonderful, in that they can produce all these substances and their bodies know what is best for baby."
A full medical history and blood samples are taken from every potential donor and all donor milk is checked for bacteria, protein and fat content. The Milk Bank issues pre-sterile bottles, on which donors record their name and the date the milk was expressed.
Once breastmilk donors have collected sufficient milk they contact the bank for a transport box which is then sent to the bank using variety of transport routes with milk frozen in insulated boxes. A tracing system is in use so that all milk can be tracked from the donor to the baby that receives it, with such records kept for a 30 year period.
McCrea says that the power of social media helps when trying to find donors:
"The Facebook group 'Extended Breastfeeding' have helped again and again when supplies are low. We are always striving to improve the service we provide.
Thanks to a wonderful donation from the Royal Jubilee Hospital's Neo-Natal Fund we are now able to pasteurise milk in 50ml bottles. Now all the colostrum is pasteurised down into these bottles and then sent out frozen to the units in need."
The Milk Bank is appealing for help from mums who may have a quantity of milk in their freezer, particularly if this milk is suitable for a premie baby where stocks are at their lowest. Breastfeeding mums with babies under three months of age, who think that they could provide at least three litres of milk, are also being asked to get in touch with the bank.
If you would like to donate breast milk, you can email or ring the Milk Bank on (048) 686 28333 and staff will guide you through the donation process.